National Science Week: Why it’s more important now than ever before.

Throughout time, the people of the British Isles have been a nation of proud folk. In a long and varied past, the British have often found themselves leading the rest of the world, for better or worse, in many different fields.

Whether it is leading religious ‘crusades’ to the holy land, colonising half the world or fighting the surging Nazis (after the invasion of Poland proved a step too far) Britain has been a major player in world events for a LONG time.

In no field is this truer than that of Science and Technology, in this, we are in a class all to ourselves. When it comes to industrial revelations and scientific breakthroughs, the British are truly excellent.

Even a concise list of only the crème de la crème constitutes a lengthy list of impressive feats;

  • Sir Isaac Newton and his three fundamental laws. And the odd spot of bother with an apple…
  • Charles Darwin and the theory of natural selection.
  • Sir Alexander Flemming and the rather convenient discovery of penicillin.
  • Stephen Hawking and his outstanding theories on cosmology and black holes.
  • Michael Faraday – founder of electromagnetism and the first person responsible for making electricity useful in devices such as transformers and generators.
  • DNA discovery
  • The Higgs Boson
  • The World Wide Web
  • The telephone, the lightbulb, the hovercraft…

I think we can all agree, the list is an impressive one.

In the 17th century, the Scientific Revolution was in full swing and Britain was playing a key part. When this gave way to the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, Britain really thrived. With several inventions and developments (bicycle, canals, railways, roads, steam engines, factory work etc) that changed the landscape of not only Britain but the world.

For a long time, the United Kingdom has punched well above its weight, mixing it with the big boys. For such a small country, the United Kingdom shouldn’t have had the success or impact that it has. But, just how far we have overperformed may come as a surprise.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the 79th largest country in the world and has a population of 65,110,000. Smaller than countries such as;

  • Madagascar
  • Morocco
  • Malaysia

And with a smaller population than;

  • Egypt
  • Iran
  • Turkey

So, if we have such an established history in Science, why do we need a National Science Week? Surely, Science has become part of our nature, ingrained in our DNA as a nation?

Well, no.

Although the UK is a world leader in many different fields of huge importance, (For example, Britain makes the most pharmaceutical drugs in the world behind only the US) the UK has failed to maintain the pace of the bygone golden age. With the emergence of blossoming economies like India and China, the UK faces more competition than ever before to stay competitive in the current marketplace.

And whilst companies like Rolls-Royce and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) fly the flag for big business, the supply of British scientific talent is thinning. There is a severe lack of graduates, especially science graduates, entering the teaching profession.

With fewer people choosing to teach as a profession, and 61% of surveyed teachers considering quitting (According to research published by National Science Learning Network) there is a worrying lack of people adequately trained and educated to inspire and guide the budding scientists of the younger generation.

Events like ‘National Science Week’ might not be the answer to a 31% shortage in physics teachers required to meet intake expectations. However, if events of the ilk of National Science Week can assist in nurturing young, inquisitive minds and if they can inspire children to choose science then maybe – just maybe – the future of British Science can be safeguarded.

Maybe then, the great tradition of British innovators and scientists will be maintained.




Header photo credit: Mars P./Flickr


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